The United Auto Workers kicked off 2019 labor negotiations with the union taking a hard line, reminding officials from the Ford Motor Co. that automakers they have enjoyed a period of prosperity and a restless union membership is looking for its share in the new contract.
“Ford Motor Co. has seen years of growth and significant profitability since the 2015 negotiations,” UAW president Gary Jones said during the traditional handshake across the table at Ford headquarters in Dearborn. The across-the-table-handshake marks the official opening of contract bargaining in the auto industry in the run up to the expiration of the labor contracts in September.
More than 120,000 hourly workers at Ford Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V. and General Motors. The most difficult negotiations are expected at GM, which is in the process of closing four plants the union has vowed to protect, including the company’s iconic assembly plant in Lordstown, Ohio.
Ford, however, also requires union attention, Jones said in his remarks.
“I have heard loud and clear – at every Ford plant and local visit – that they expect to share in the profits that their hard work and dedication have made possible,” he added. “We’re seeing record profits for our American companies but, sad to say, those gains aren’t translating to our workers gains.”
“In fact, the Big 3 are more profitable in North America than any of their competitors. You have the home field advantage that our members built,” Jones said.
Jones noted that despite the record profits, labor is still being forced to take concessions and jobs outsourced to companies paying lower wages in the United States, Mexico and China and all over the world.
Jones also emphasized that UAW members expect to build the products of the future and be part of the manufacturing and automation processes that are on the horizon.
“We want to be part of the evolving business model,” said Jones in his unexpectedly tough remarks at the outset of the negotiations with Ford, which has developed a cordial relation with the union over the past four decade and new employs more UAW members than either General Motors or Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.
In fact, Bill Ford, Ford’s executive chairman, emphasized the cordial relations in his opening remarks, which also acknowledged the vital assistance the union delivered during the financial crisis and recession of 2008 and 2009. “Thank you for all you have done to help build our company and our industry,” said Ford.
After the ceremony, Joe Hinrichs, the head of Ford’s automotive operations, said Ford expects to maintain its cordial relations with the UAW and emphasized it will work “together” with the union to address critical issues and keep Ford competitive in a difficult environment.
The company and the union worked through difficult issues in 2015 and expects to do it again this year, Hinrichs said.
“The labor negotiations arrive at a tougher time for the auto industry in general than the last go-around in 2015 and with healthcare costs a major concern. There is also the possibility that President Trump and candidates from the Democratic Party will be vocal on the contract talks,” the investor-oriented website Seeking Alpha observed.
The current UAW’s current contracts with Ford, GM and FCA expire at 11:59 p.m. on Sept. 14. The union will officially open talks with GM and FCA later this week.